Had a lot more fun with the writing today.
|Fire and Explosion by evans888.|
First: word goal: 2,500. Word achievement: 3,400 (give or take – I did some minor edits of yesterday’s piece as well).
I also spent a little time with my last story, re-reading the end of it; it’s hard to put it down, because I’ve spent so much time with those people. It’s still pulling at me, so I might need to go back and edit it sooner than I thought.
Today, I’ll put up yesterdays’ short with the minor edits, and the conclusion of the scene from today’s short. I hope you enjoy it. Again, I’m not sure if these will make it into the book, but they’re a plausible start.
This is probably the last of the shorts I’ll put online for this one.
See you tomorrow!
“You sure he’s here?” Carter was more curt than usual.
“I’m not sure of anything. I think it’s likely he’s here.” Mason coughed into the rain, wiping his face. “Whatever – I’ve got to get out of the rain.”
“You’re still within safe tolerance.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You’re sitting pretty behind a desk.” Mason worked a hand through his hair, looking at the clumps that stuck to his palm. “You see this? Does this look like safe tolerance?”
“It looks like a day in the chair. Relax.” Carter paused for a second. “Maybe two days. Besides, you’re going to die of cancer first, remember?”
“People in my profession don’t get to die of cancer. I’ll consider myself lucky.” Mason looked up at the building, the windows dark and empty. A few stray shards of glass stuck to frames here and there, but the paint was long gone. The low building was an extravagance of an older world, barely touching the sky at five stories high. Mason thought he saw a face at a window, but it shimmed and was gone. “I think I’m getting symptoms.”
“Check the feed. Was there a girl up in that window?”
Carter was quiet for a moment. “No.”
“Fuck.” Mason coughed again. “Definitely symptoms.” He brought up a tactical overlay in the top corner of his vision, set to playback the optics’ feed.
“Clever,” said Carter. “Checking the digital against the real?”
“Something like that.” Mason saw another face at a different window, an eyeless corpse with a wet gash for a mouth. The overlay showed a window, dark and empty. “I always get a headache from the overlay. Sometimes I hate this job.”
“You could quit.”
“Mercedes tried to quit. That’s why we’re here.” Mason walked away from the Suzuki, the bike powering down with a soft whine as the cover locked into place. He stepped past an expensive looking Bentley parked next to a smaller Daimler. “You got a satellite view?”
“I’m working on it.”
“There were budget cuts, weren’t there.”
“Christ, Mason. This isn’t Fisher Price in space. I’m getting a lot of interference. There are other interests at work here.”
“Do you want the satellite, or do you want to know who’s trying to jack it?”
“I want the satellite.” Mason walked up chipped concrete steps to the double doors at the front of the building. An old wooden board lay against the steps, chipped paint advising Vacancy – Apply Within! “Wait. Someone’s jacking one of our sats?”
“You do your job, I’ll do mine.”
“Jesus, Carter. I don’t want that thing pointed the wrong way.”
“Have I ever let you down?”
Mason didn’t reply. Carter probably had detailed stats on that kind of thing, and – really – it would be bad form to get into that kind of conversation with her right now. He laid a hand on the tarnished doorknob, giving it a gentle pull. The wet wood tore, the knob coming out in his hand. He looked at it for a moment, then tossed it aside. Mason stood against the door, pushing it with his shoulder. The door sighed soft and low as it opened into the dark foyer. Something moved in the darkness, scuttling for cover. The overlay showed it too, something like a rat, but bigger. He reached for the Tenko-Kensai, clicking the weapon’s light on. Clear and bright, the beam played across the room, picking out an old reception desk, the boxes for hotel mail rotting behind it. A rusty bell still sat on the counter next to a heap of mouldering machinery that might have been a till.
“You’re going to die. You’re going to die, and they’ll never find your body!” Carter’s voice was harsh in his ears.
“What the fuck, Carter.” Mason swallowed. “What the actual fuck!”
“I didn’t say anything.” Carter’s voice was normal, calm.
“Yeah. Yeah, you did.”
“Curious. It’s progressing faster than I thought. With your augments -”
“You didn’t just say I was going to die?”
“No.” She paused. “I probably should have, though. Statistically speaking, you’re not in a good place right now. It might have been the EMP.”
Mason played the beam around the rest of the room, picking out a curved stairway leading up. An old man with a rotting face –
The stairway was empty. Mason swallowed again. “I tell you what.”
“Don’t say anything to me until I talk to you. Nothing -“
“Sure.” Mason nodded to himself. “Unsolicited.”
“What if I see something?” Carter sounded doubtful.
“Then you’re just going to have to let me handle it. It’s why old man Gairovald pays me the big dollars.” Mason moved towards the stairway, looking up the well. Somewhere high above him the roof was broken, water coming in somewhere. The stairs were wet with it. “If I get out of this, I’ll take you some place nice.”
Carter’s reply was quiet, uncertain. “Like where?”
“No where like this place, that’s for sure.” Mason coughed again, something wet hitting his hand as he covered his mouth.
“Ok.” Carter paused, then her voice hardened. “Try not to get yourself killed. I don’t want to break in a new partner.” The line went dead.
Mason put a foot on the first step, easing his weight onto it. It creaked, the swollen wood giving easily under his foot. Not that way, then. He looked up again, a flash of lightening picking out a ring of faces looking down at him. The overlay showed an empty stairway. He blinked a few times, wiping his face with his free hand, the Tenko-Kensai’s beam bobbing across their faces, then they were gone. The hair on the back of his neck rose. “Not the stairs, then. Right.”
Talking to yourself was never a good sign.
He blinked around the foyer again, his eye picking out a door behind the reception desk. It was slightly ajar, a sign saying Staff Only in what might once have been gold letters. Mason walked towards it, his feet scraping and crunching against the debris on the floor. He crouched next to the door, the light shining down at the floor. The floor was scraped here, as if the door had been recently opened. He leaned against the frame, then pushed the door slowly inward. Concrete stairs went down into the dark. He saw eyes blinking up at him, but the overlay was clean and clear. “Mercedes? You down there?”
Silence. He waited, leaning against the frame. The thing like a rat came back out from somewhere, scampering across the floor and away.
“Mercedes. Seriously, man.” Somewhere inside Mason a hysterical giggle started, and he clamped down on the noise. “This can be as easy or hard as you want it.”
There was a scuffle of sound from the stairway. Then a man’s voice – from the bar. “Apsel?”
Mason grinned in spite of himself. “Metatech. How you doin’?”
“I told you I didn’t need backup.” Mason let something nasty into his voice. “The shredder was a bit much.” He fumbled in his pocket for a drone, twisting the sphere and tossing it down the steps. It bounced, a scattering of red lasing out as it tumbled down into the dark. He let the overlay fill up, picking out the layout of the room below. Mason sealed the front of his jacket, shrugging his shoulders as the helmet chattered out of his collar and lapped into place around his head.
“It seemed the fastest way.” The man was down there, to the left somewhere. The overlay was filling up the more noise scatter came up the stairs. Some pillars, four, no five humans… A shot rang out, the drone signal dying. An old style chemical weapon – definitely the Bentley. “Really, Apsel. A scanner?”
“You guys have the home town advantage!” Mason blinked away the clawed hands that reached for his face, breathing hard into the helmet. “I’ve got two questions.”
“First question. Can I talk to Mercedes?”
“He’s here. What’s your second question?”
“Can I have your Bentley when this is over? To cover expenses.”
“I thought the Daimler would be more your speed.” There was a hiss from below, a quick chatter of Japanese. “What are you wagering?”
“Apsel fusion drive?”
“It seems fair.” The man paused. “It seems a shame we’re on opposite sides of this. Have you ever thought about..?”
“Not ever.” Mason grinned into the helmet. “The offer’s open the other way.”
“No thanks. I’m touched, but no thanks. You wanted to talk to Mercedes?”
“Yeah. Mercedes?” Mason’s overlay was starting to map the placement of people against their voices. Bentley was to the left, the smattering of Japanese from one of the two in the middle of the room. There was a larger shape at the back – not Mercedes – which meant that one of the last two was the doctor.
“You are from Apsel?” The voice was thin and reedy, an edge of panic suppressed beneath the academic exterior. “I… I am sorry.”
Got him. He was next to Bentley. That made the room out to be Bentley to the left, Mercedes between him and the two in the middle, and the final larger one at the back. “Yeah. Doc? I’m here to advise you -“ Something loomed at him from out of the darkness, its lipless mouth surrounding teeth crooked and yellowed… He blinked it away and tried again. “You’re in breach of contract.”
“I… I see,” said Mercedes. “You don’t understand! The research was so promising -“
“You’re talking to the wrong guy,” said Mason. “You should have been having this conversation with HR. You know the rules.”
“But he wouldn’t let me do the research! No one understands his reactor, except Haraway -“
“I don’t care, Doc. You know your choices.”
There was a moment of silence. “It’s too late for that, I think.”
Mason nodded into the darkness of the stairwell. Give the doctor credit, but he wasn’t snivelling. Of course, he had – what had Bentley called it? Backup.
“I’ve got him.”
“Are there complications?”
“Metatech.” Mason could hear soft steps from below, his overlay picking out one of the two in the middle of the room moving towards the base of the stairs. “They’re pitching a tent for this guy.”
“I thought Reed would want it more.”
“Me too. Simulations are more their wheelhouse. I don’t get what Metatech wants, unless it’s just a weaponised plague.”
“Don’t over think it.” Carter sounded bored. “He turned down the offer?”
“Yeah.” Mason shrugged. “We always thought he would. You got that satellite back?”
“Jesus, Carter, you’re killing me here. Hang on – I’ll call you back.”
“Wait -“ Whatever she was about to say was lost as Mason killed the link. The footsteps were closer to the bottom of the stairs. He looked down into the darkness again, then felt the pressure build in the air. Mason saw the instant incandescence and pulled his head back, the plasma charge tumbling inside the magnetic field. The weapon discharged a fraction of time after he ducked behind the doorframe, ionised particles shredding a chunk out of the doorframe. Mason swung the Tenko-Kensai around the doorframe, the little weapon screaming its fury down the stairwell. Air around the muzzle of the weapon flashed and burned in the heat, and the girl at the bottom of the stairs was pulled apart as the flechettes struck. Her skin had started to burn before she hit the ground.
Mason pulled back around the doorframe. “Offer’s still open, Metatech.” He called up a firing solution for five – no, four – targets. “Just saying’.”
No one answered, but he didn’t expect them too. Footsteps were moving, and someone – Mercedes, probably – gave a startled yell then was quiet. The firing solution came up on his overlay, percentages and likely fatality rates marked next to each target. Now, the hard part. He stepped around the corner and into the waiting dark below.
Their pale faces looked up at him, bloated drowned corpses floating on the water –
It gave him enough pause to save his life. The chemical weapon fired, the heavy shots ringing out sharp against the concrete walls of the basement. They pulled big chunks out of the stairway, concrete shards cracking and spinning away. Mason stumbled, turning it into a dive and roll. His shoulder hit the basement floor, and he felt something give despite the reflexive armour of the jacket. The pain came quick and was gone twice as fast as the dampeners took over, and he kept rolling up and into a crouch. The firing solution took over.
The girl was yelling something at him, another pressure wave starting from the shredder she carried, but the Tenko-Kensai was faster. The little weapon screamed again as the flechettes were peeled and accelerated through the air. Mason could feel the instant heat through his gloves and jacket as pockets of air ignited and burned in front of the weapon, lines of fire drawn through the air towards the second girl. She was hit, torn and spinning as if grabbed and tossed by a giant’s hand, her body snapping into flame as the flechettes hit. The shredder discharging over there, a giant chunk of concrete shattering into fragments around the larger form at the back of the room.
Aw, hell. No time for that now – Mason pivoted towards Bentley, but he was too slow. The man was on him already, the old handgun coming down towards his head. Their wrists hit together, weapons discharging, the shot of the pistol loud next to Mason’s ear. The Tenko-Kensai screamed briefly before he lost his grip on it, the weapon spinning across the dark floor, sizzling into a puddle, superheated steam spraying up around it. Mason grabbed at Bentley’s wrist, pulling him up and over, the man’s gun falling away into the dark as he tumbled into a beautifully controlled roll.
They both stood, facing each other. Bentley held up a hand towards the back of the room. “No, Conrad. Not yet.” The looming form back their paused, hydraulics sighing in the dark. Spotlights snapped on, high on its shoulders.
Mason cocked his head at the other man. “Honour amongst thieves?”
“If you like.” The man took off his jacket, folding it neatly and hanging it from the stair railing. He crouched into a fighting stance.
Mason shook his head, the helmet armour lapping back into his collar. “Ok.” They started to walk in a slow circle, feet picking over the rubble on the floor, eyes never leaving each other.
Bentley frowned. “Your chip is off. That’s a shame. Sloppy work gets you dead.”
Mason felt the hands on his throat, choking him, and he struggled to breathe –
He shook his head. “Yeah. Sloppy.”
Bentley looked around the basement, picked out in the harsh light of the spotlights. “You’ve got it, don’t you.”
Mason shrugged. “Sure. I’ve got symptoms.”
“We’ve got the cure.”
Mason snorted. “I doubt that very much.” And with that, they closed on each other. Bentley’s hand came for his eyes, but Mason fended, a knee rising into the other man’s groin – but Bentley was gone, dancing back, a spinning kick coming from the floor, bring water and the promise of pain. Mason ducked low under the man’s leg, lifting him into the air and dropping him on the ground on his back. There was the unexpected huff of air, and Mason dove for him, but he was gone again, rolling back into the dark.
The spotlights played across it all, marking their shadows tall and alien against the wall.
Bentley was back, a double fisted blow going for Mason’s face, but the helmet lapped out of the collar and the man’s knuckles rapped against the plating. Bentley hissed in pain, and Mason grabbed his tailored shirt. They wrestled briefly, Bentley driving a foot into Mason’s knee. Mason felt the pain as something snapped, but he didn’t let go. A snarl curled across his face as he pulled the other man in for a head butt, the sound sharp and wet.
Mason stood, breathing hard. He looked around for the Tenko-Kensai –
“Please. Don’t make me use this.” Mercedes held the little weapon in shaking hands.
“Doc.” Mason was still breathing hard. “I wouldn’t -“
The warning was lost as the hulking form – Conrad, was it? – moved from behind Mercedes. Servos whined against the hiss of hydraulics as the thing rumbled forward. It laid a huge, metal hand on the doctor’s shoulders, pushing him sideways to get at Mason. Mercedes panicked, squeezing the weapon’s trigger –
The discharge was sharp and savage, lightening arcing from the weapon to the walls and floor. Mercedes’ eyes were bulging as the current coursed through him, bolts of energy being flung off him. Arcs hit Conrad, and the bouncer stalled, stuttering. Darkness fell again, Mason’s optics adjusting. He moved quickly across the floor to Mercedes, checking the man.
Dead. Assignment complete.
He picked up the Tenko-Kensai, looking at Conrad. The machine body was starting to shuffle back to life. Christ. If Carter didn’t have the satellite back up –
Mason broke into a run for the stairs. He was half way up before he stopped, going back down to Bentley’s jacket on the stair railing. He fumbled through the pockets, pulling out a set of keys. Conrad was back up, and moving heavy and fast towards the stairs. Mason ran up the stairs, the Tenko-Kensai flaring hard and bright behind him as he fired back down the stairs. Flechettes ricocheted off Conrad’s armoured form, then Mason was free in the lobby, running for the door to the street.
Crashing followed him as Conrad lumbered up the stairs, too big to go up easily. The burning rain hit Mason in the face as he made it outside.
“I need a strike!”
“I still don’t have the satellite back. There’s -“
“Fuck!” Mason killed the link, heading for the Bentley. He opened the door, the car’s HUD kicking in bright and clear in the dark. The engine started up, a low throaty growl. Mason looked up through the windscreen as the building’s doors flew back off their hinges, tumbling down the concrete steps. Conrad stood there, machine body tall and strong against the driving rain. The metal head turned, scanning, then he walked down the steps towards the Bentley.
Mason floored the accelerator, the big engine roaring. The wheels scudded against the slick tarmac, the machine jumping the kerb and roaring towards Conrad. The big man couldn’t move sideways fast enough, and the Bentley slammed into him with supercar strength and speed. Airbags punched Mason in the face. He clawed for the door, tumbling out. He scrambled for the Suzuki, the big bike’s fusion drive coming online, the running lights a beacon in the rain.
Conrad was struggling under the weight of the Bentley, struggling to push the car off. He got one metal hand under the front, and started to lift it, servos whining against the load. Mason ducked behind the Suzuki, pointing the Tenko-Kensai over the top of the bike at the Bentley’s fuel tank.
The explosion blew the front of the building in, ancient wood caving at the end. Bits of metal rained down around Mason, and something clattered near his feat – the Bentley logo. He picked it up, putting it in his pocket.
“You got the sat back up yet?”
“Yes.” Carter paused. “Did you just destroy a vintage Bentley?”
“It was vintage?”
“Good night, Mason.”
“Good night, Carter.”